Alcoholism in the workplace - signs effects and treatment

Alcoholism in the Workplace: Signs, Effects, and Treatment

As an employee, you are hired by a company to fulfill a certain job description. What you do outside of office hours – such as drinking alcohol – is, of course, your personal business. However, if alcohol abuse impairs you enough that you are no longer able to do your job, then your employer has a right to be concerned. After all, alcoholism in the workplace brings about dire consequences – not only to the company – but to you, the employee, as well.

Signs of Alcoholism at work

Signs of Alcoholism in the Workplace

Approximately 15% of the American workforce – 19.2 million employees to be exact – admit to alcohol use (even impairment) in the workplace. Such is usually seen through the following signs and symptoms:

Physical and Behavioral

The tell-tale signs of alcoholism are obvious in the employee’s appearance. His breath and over-all smell usually reek of alcohol. Because of these, he usually turns to breath mints and the usual mouthwash.

He may have bloodshot eyes, tremors, and an unsteady gait as well.

His behavior is typically unusual – he might talk loudly or laugh excessively. In some cases, he sleeps on the job. Because of these obvious signs, an alcoholic at work often finds himself avoiding his supervisor or the manager.


An alcoholic may show up late for work, if he ever reports to work at all. He often has unexplained or ‘unplanned’ absences, citing family emergencies or car trouble as the main reasons. A pattern usually emerges for these absences – they usually happen after payday or a day before or after the weekend (Monday or Friday).

If he is not tardy or absent, he might frequently take sick leaves with no good reason at all.


According to the Office of Personnel Management, an alcoholic may demonstrate a variety of performance problems. He may miss deadlines and may be unable to meet work quotas. He may exhibit faulty analyses, thereby resulting in sloppy if not uncomplete assignments. His excuses for such mistakes may be so plentiful that they don’t seem to run out.


Because of alcoholism, the drinker’s relationship with his co-workers may become strained. For one, he may opt to become a loner. On the other hand, he may become argumentative and belligerent. He may even borrow money from his co-workers – or he may often receive calls from collection companies. Alcoholism, after all, proves to be an expensive vice.

Effects on Work Performance

Alcohol can affect your vision and speech. It can impair your memory and slow down your reaction times. These effects – among many others – can get in the way of your work.

Alcohol intake can affect workplace productivity.

Productivity, in industry terms, is measured in terms of output per unit of input. High productivity is important for every business because it translates to better profits.

Unfortunately, alcoholism can affect an employee’s ability to meet quotas, deadlines, and whatnot. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a profit of as much as $119 billion was lost due to alcohol in the year 1995.

Alcohol can make you commit more mistakes.

According to the Institute of Alcohol Studies, as much as 22% of workers admit to committing mistakes at work due to a hangover. While to err is human, committing so at work may have dire consequences. This tenet applies to most jobs, especially that of healthcare personnel, pilots, and drivers, to name a few.

Take the case of a study of pilots who were exposed to 3 alcohol conditions. Of all the participants who registered a BAC of 0.10, 89% were unable to perform all the operations completely. This is very alarming, as piloting errors may lead to serious loss of life.

What’s more frightening is that alcohol continues to take a toll on the system – even if several hours have passed. To wit, 68% of these pilots were still not able to perform their functions – although it has been 14 hours since they first consumed alcohol.

Alcohol can lead to errors in judgment.

Sound judgment is necessary for nearly all aspects of work. To do so, you need to be able to assess the present situation and circumstances so that you could make a good conclusion. Unfortunately, alcohol can slow brain activity so much so that one’s judgment is left impaired. This is notably dangerous, especially in the above-mentioned professions.

Take the case of a professional driver, who needs excellent judgment to operate a vehicle well. Do note that it takes as little as 2 beers to impair one’s driving judgment considerably.

Apart from causing property damage, alcohol can lead to loss of lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol-impaired drivers are responsible for as much as 29 vehicular deaths every day.

Alcohol can increase the likelihood of workplace accidents.

According to the International Labor Organization, as much as 40% of workplace accidents can be attributed to alcohol consumption. In the UK for example, a drunk construction worker ended up driving his 40-ton truck in a small town, destroying 15 cars in the process. More than just racking up fees for property damages, alcohol-fueled accidents might lead to loss of life and limb.

Employee Assistance Program  

Because of the widespread effect of alcoholism on the workplace, many companies have instituted measures to combat the said issue. One such intervention is the employee assistance program (EAP), which can help with the employee’s alcoholism problems.

EAP services range in scope. It can provide necessary assessment, so the employee can be referred to the proper authorities for proper diagnosis and treatment. It can bridge the employee to vital community resources as well. Most EAPs even conduct follow-up programs to reduce the incidence of relapse.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, EAPs are successful in reducing alcohol problems amongst the employees. A study of pilots has shown that 87% of the 199 subjects were able to return to work after making use of the company’s EAP.

Parting Words

Alcohol affects every aspect of life. More than just destroying families and other relationships, excessive drinking can take a toll on one’s employment. With that being said, if you want to keep your source of income – then you need to seek the services of your company’s EAP right away.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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